Social Entrepreneur Index Nominee: Change Please
Cemal Ezel, Founder of Change Please talks to us about fighting to end homelessness by training members of the homeless community as baristas, how they got started as a social enterprise and their plans for the future.
What does your social enterprise do?
Change Please empowers members of the homeless community by training them as baristas. It provides its staff not only with training but with a bank account, housing and therapy.
What made you start your business up?
I was travelling in Vietnam where I visited a silent teahouse, run by speech and hearing impaired employees – individuals who would traditionally struggle to find employment but were able to support themselves by finding a niche that worked for them. I was really inspired. When I returned to London, I noticed the shocking homeless situation and thought there must be a way this community could also find employment. The growth of coffee sales has been huge in the last few years and I wondered if there might be a way to merge the two - so homeless individuals could benefit somehow. That’s when I had the idea for Change Please.
How do you measure your impact?
We have impact and evaluation systems designed alongside industry leaders, The Soil Innovation Partnership, Can-Invest and the University of Northampton.
We measure and strive to find the correct balance between social and commercial impact. Ultimately all our efforts are geared towards helping more homeless people rebuild their lives and hearing from them that we have helped them get back on their feet, restored their dignity and helped them rejoin society, means that we’re doing this right!
What help did you have to start your social enterprise?
Since our launch in 2015, we’ve been fortunate enough to have been able to partner with some amazing socially-conscious companies like the Big Issue Magazine and have had some truly inspirational mentors, including senior staff from a range of sectors such as leading ad agencies, financial firms and big retail companies. We were able to bring together a brilliant and experienced advisory team and staff. We also worked with start-up organisations (see below) and Virgin StartUp.
How did you decide on what legal form would work best for your business?
When we first started out we were advised to set up as a CIC so that we could obtain investment to launch the business. We have recently set a Change Please charity and, in truth, what is most important is to get the trading model correct and not rely on grants too much.
What’s the best thing about being a social entrepreneur?
Being able to do something you’re passionate about and knowing you are making a positive difference to society.
What has been your biggest challenge when setting up and running your social enterprise?
With all social enterprises, you need to balance the social with the commercial. As a non-profit, sometimes this means we have additional challenges and costs that purely commercial companies would not have to consider. We have these, however, because we choose to do the right thing to help change the market – like paying staff the Living Wage, which is an extra cost very few organisations pay. We do it because it’s the right thing to do and build these additional costs into our financial planning to demonstrate that it’s viable.
What advice would you give to aspiring social entrepreneurs?
Start with your minimal viable product, most often no-one knows the real answer to your problem, so go with what feels right and have confidence in your decision.
There’s lots of support and help available if you look for it. Approach experienced people in relevant industries. When we started off (and still today) we discussed our business with individuals from marketing, legal and financial backgrounds who have mentored us and given us key learnings from their experiences. It can also often feel quite lonely starting a new enterprise, and so it’s important to work with others and draw on other people’s expertise and advice in order to make society better.
Make decisions - if the decision you make is correct then that’s fantastic, if the decision you make is wrong and you learn from it, then that’s fine too, but the real problem is when you make no decision and there’s inaction.
What information sources would you recommend to help someone just starting their social enterprise journey?
As before, there is a lot of support out there for social entrepreneurs at all stages of their journey. Additionally, we’ve received support and guidance from organisations including – Can-Invest; The SSE - School of Social Entrepreneurs; Unltd - the Foundation for Social Entrepreneurs and SeUK – Social Enterprise UK.
What are your plans for the next 2-5 years?
We have big plans for the future as we want to end homelessness! We’re opening a Training Academy in the summer which is really exciting and will allow us to train many more baristas. There are also new sites opening with partners throughout the UK and we will be expanding our retail offerings to Manchester and opening more sites in London and across the TfL network (in addition to Clapham Common and Goodge Street stations).
We’re also planning to open a Training Academy in New York and have been in contact with the Mayor's office there about taking our programme abroad. We were part of the prestigious International Innovators Initiative (IN2NYC) there and have been set up as an approved US charity thanks to the support of international law firm, Latham and Watkins (who will oversee our operations in the US) and have appointed a CIO to help with our expansion.